The Religious Freedom Institute applauds the successful conclusion of the three-day Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. The remarkable gathering of government and civil society representatives from across the world drove home the brutal nature of international religious persecution, and was marked by historic multilateral commitments to do more to stop it.
July 24, 2018, Washington, D.C.— The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The unprecedented three-day gathering of high-level government officials, civil society representatives, and religious leaders presents an opportunity to elevate the foreign policy priority of religious freedom for the United States, for participating nations, and for the world.
“The twenty years since the passage of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act have confirmed its premise that religious freedom is a universal moral good. Unfortunately, these years have also demonstrated that the absence of religious freedom is destabilizing and dangerous. The Ministerial will focus on the strategic importance for international security and economic prosperity of this fundamental right,” said Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute and founding Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
Global threats to religious freedom have never been greater. Over 6.1 billion people, 83% of the world’s population, live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, according to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center. Millions are subject to violent persecution, including torture, rape, forced expulsion, and murder because of their religious beliefs or those of their tormentors. From Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to Russia, India, Myanmar, and China, to Nigeria, Nicaragua and Venezuela, violations of religious freedom are causing vast human suffering, undermining entire societies, and encouraging violent religious extremism.
These sobering realities form the backdrop to the global summit being convened by Secretary of State Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. More than 80 nations are expected to send delegations, along with hundreds of representatives from civil society organizations, and religious communities from every corner of the globe.
In announcing the Ministerial, Secretary Pompeo stressed that “where fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, peace and peaceful assembly are under attack, we find conflict, instability, and terrorism. On the other hand, governments and societies that champion these freedoms are more secure, stable, and peaceful.”
RFI President Thomas Farr, who advised the State Department in planning the Ministerial, praised the Secretary and Ambassador Brownback for the action-orientated nature of the three days, as well as the emphasis on undermining terrorism and advancing economic development: “This gathering represents an historic opportunity for the United States. The time is now for our nation to lead a global effort in advancing this fundamental right, without which no human being, and no society, can flourish.”
The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.
Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
On Wednesday, December 6, Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute, testified before Congress on the ways in which U.S. International Religious Freedom diplomacy can improve our nation’s ability to combat Islamist terror.
In short: more religious freedom abroad can help prevent the rise of terrorism and protect Americans here at home.
Full testimony: Employing Religious Freedom Diplomacy to Combat Extremism, Thomas F. Farr and hearing video is below.
In marking World Human Rights Day (which takes place on December 10th, 2017), the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing examining the strategic contribution of human rights to addressing issues of extremism.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the subcommittee said, "The advancement of fundamental human rights – in particular, freedom of religion – should be a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. By emphasizing such principles, we counter extremist messaging, support moderate voices, and promote the popular aspirations of people around the world who wish to live in freedom and peace. We need to encourage such voices of moderation in the Islamic world, while waging a full-throated war of ideas with radical extremists such as ISIS. The ideological battlefield is just as important as the territorial one.”
Other Speakers included: John Lenczowski, Ph.D. (Founder and President, The Institute of World Politics), Sayyid Syeed, Ph.D., (Senior Advisor, Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances Islamic Society of North America), and Mr. Neil Hicks (Director, Human Rights Promotion, Human Rights First).
Wednesday, December 6 at 10:00 AM
2172 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
The National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to review the U.S. Government's role in advancing International Religious Freedom.
The hearing looked back at the impact of international religious freedom policy since the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, through to the amendment in the 2016 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, and recommendations for how to improve the policy to meet current challenges.
RFI President Thomas Farr testified both of the strategic value and moral imperative for promoting religious freedom. It is intimately connected with American national security interests, along with being a vital humanitarian right.
In his testimony (full text), Dr. Farr highlighted the need for developing arguments and action plans to effectively engage governments and societies to demonstrate that religious freedom is a strategic good not only for the United States but for every country. Religious freedom has direct links to undermining religion-related terrorism, boosting stability and economic growth, and protecting vulnerable communities.
Full Testimony - Dr. Thomas F. Farr: "Religious Freedom and American National Security"
A Hearing of the National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, September 5, 2017
Kristina Arriaga, Co-Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, testified of the need for increased resources to implement the tools that exist to target violators of religious freedom. She also highlighted the unjust imprisonment of American Pastor Andrew Brunson who has been held in a Turkish jail for over a year on false charges.
The hearing was chaired by Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and heard testimony from the following witnesses:
- Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute and first Director of the Office of International Religious Freedom - Written Testimony
- Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, Senior Advisor, Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor - Written Testimony
- Kristina Arriaga, Co-Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) - Written Testimony
- Rob Berschinski, Senior Vice President for Policy, Human Rights First - Written Testimony
Kent Hill, Executive Director, joined VOA News host Carol Castiel on the Encounter program to discuss the release of the U.S. State Department's 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom and the global challenges to religious freedom around the world.
Dr. Hill was joined on the program by Katayoun Kishi, research associate at Pew Research Center, where she oversees the Center’s annual study on global restrictions on religion.
The conversation not only looked at the conclusions drawn from the report, but also critical issues related to religious freedom breaking down globally.
Religious freedom violations and religion-related violence are at the root of many global crises. Many of the more than 65 million people who have been displaced as refugees or internally displaced persons have fled from religion related conflicts.
Learn More about Pew Research Center's research on Global Restrictions on Religion:
Tom Farr will join Kristina Arriaga, Commissioner at U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Judge Ken Starr, former Solicitor General, and Elyse Anderson, Congressional-Executive commission on China, for a conversation on international religious freedom and its critical role in protecting human dignity across the globe at American Enterprise Institute's 2017 Values & Capitalism Fall Summit.
This unique gathering brings together leading voices from the Christian community for a one-day series of conversations on faith, public policy, and society. This year’s Summit will focus on the theme of human dignity and its implications for public policy and institutions of civil society, including conversations on the state of American communities, challenges in today’s workforce, international religious liberty, and Christian character and leadership.
The day-long event is available to watch:
October 6, 2017: 3:30 PM EST Panel discussion II: International Religious Liberty: Protecting Human Dignity Across the Globe
Judge Ken Starr, Former US Solicitor General and Federal Judge
Kristina Arriaga, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Tom Farr, Religious Freedom Institute
Elyse Bauer Anderson, Congressional-Executive Commission on China
On October 4, Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as nominee to serve as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
RFI President Thomas Farr spoke with Travis Wussow, Vice President for Public Policy of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, outside the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room about Governor Brownback and the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
The Senate Foreign Relations hearing, chaired by Senator Marco Rubio is available to watch here: Governor Sam Brownback Confirmation Hearing
State Department’s Latest International
Religious Freedom Report
Underscores Need for All-of-Government Strategy
August 15, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) — The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the State Department’s 19th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom and applauds Secretary Tillerson and the Office of International Religious Freedom responsible for producing it.
President of the Religious Freedom Institute Thomas Farr stated: “The Secretary correctly observed that growing religious persecution not only poses a grave moral problem, but also implicates the national security of the United States. Advancing religious freedom can enhance stability and undermine the violent religious extremism that threatens us all. For these reasons, U.S. religious freedom policy should be part of a coherent, all-of-government national security strategy. The Senate should quickly confirm Governor Sam Brownback as the new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. We need someone of his stature and experience to develop and implement the religious freedom elements of such a strategy.”
The Annual Report, required by the International Religious Freedom Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law, is sobering and disturbing. It catalogs the growing crisis of religious persecution that is causing immense human suffering.
The report emphasizes that governments violently repress religious groups through blasphemy and apostasy laws, destruction and seizure of property, or imprisonment of religious leaders. The worst offenders include North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Religious freedom should be central to our relations with these countries, and even with allies such as Turkey, where an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, remains in prison.
Increasingly the most violent persecution has come from terrorist groups. The most visible threat has been the proliferation of ISIS and affiliated groups across the Middle East – and increasingly into Southeast Asia, Africa, and even into Europe and North America.
“I am encouraged to see Secretary Tillerson reemphasize that ISIS is responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims and that the Trump administration seeks to assist and protect them,” said Kent Hill, Executive Director of the Religious Freedom Institute.
“The U.S. must ensure that humanitarian assistance is in fact reaching these genocide survivors. Beyond that, we must help them rebuild their homelands and create the religious and ethnic pluralism that can forestall the return of violent religious extremism,” said Hill.
The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.
Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
On May 10-13, more than 600 delegates from 130 countries gathered in Washington, D.C. to address the global challenge of Christian persecution.
The event was filled with powerful testimonies of Christians around the globe - from the daughter of an Iranian martyr, to the brother of Coptic Christians killed by ISIS in Libya, to church leaders from South America, Africa, and Asia.
Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, gave a plenary address to the summit on the topic of advocating for freedom. His remarks called for an urgency and a fierce commitment not just to the protection of Christians, but to the promotion of religious freedom. The principle that will enable them "to live in the world as his followers, as salt and light, as Christians."
Kent Hill, Executive Director, and Tim Shah, Senior Advisor of the Religious Freedom Institute also participated in the event as Special Advisors and led breakout sessions to discuss the challenges and opportunities of advocating on behalf of Christians in particular contexts of persecution.
Critical to any successful advocacy will be the principle of promoting religious freedom for all. This was one of the key findings of the Under Caesar's Sword project which studied in detail the responses of Christian communities to persecution in more than 25 of the world's most repressive countries.
The World Summit In Defense of Persecuted Christians was organized by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and was organized as an opportunity to bring greater attention to the global plight of persecution around the world.
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Conference and Members of Congress including Senators James Lankford and Roy Blunt also participated.
"I’m here on behalf of the President as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world," said Vice President Pence in his opening remarks.
U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and U.S. Congress
Please join us on March 20 for the launch of U.S. Foreign Policy and International Religious Freedom: Recommendations for the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress, a new Policy Brief co-published by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement.
Monday March 20, 2017
Kennedy Caucus Room (SR-325)
Russell Senate Office Building
Light refreshments served
The Brief will be presented by its co-authors, Tom Farr of RFI and Dennis Hoover of IGE. This will be followed by responses from Members of Congress and other advocates and scholars of religious freedom.
Confirmed speakers include:
- Senator Bob Corker, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Senator Cory Gardner, Chairman, Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Congressman Trent Franks, Co-Chairman, Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus
- Congressman Francis Rooney, Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee
- Congressman Bill Flores, Member, House Energy and Commerce Committee
- Frank Wolf, Former Congressman and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
- Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, Commissioner at U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
- Andrew Bennett, former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, senior fellow at Cardus, Senior Research Fellow of the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University
Past administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have started very slowly in implementing international religious freedom policy. Regrettably they have also had very limited success in addressing the alarming increase in religious persecution, radicalization, and violence around the world. The Trump Administration has an opportunity, at low cost, to make a major contribution to religious freedom for all—and at the same time advance America’s interests in national security, international stability, fundamental human rights, and economic growth worldwide.
The event is co-sponsored by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement, in partnership with the International Religious Freedom Roundtable.
RFI President, Thomas Farr published an editorial with recommendations for the administration of President Trump on international religious freedom, and particularly the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom:
As a candidate, Donald Trump said very little publicly about rising threats to religious freedom abroad. But recent reports suggest that President Trump may be moving quickly to nominate the official charged by law to lead that element of United States foreign policy: the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.
Given that President George W. Bush took well over a year to get his nominee in place, and President Barak Obama more than two, it appears that Trump may be placing a higher priority on international religious freedom than his predecessors.
He has ample reason to do so. Studies show that religious freedom can make substantial contributions to democratic stability, economic growth, and the undermining of religious violence and terrorism.
Unfortunately, studies also show that religious freedom is in global decline, while religious persecution and terrorism are spreading.
In the Middle East, Christians, Yezidis, disfavored Muslims, and other minorities are still being savaged by ISIS and its jihadist cohorts. In Asia and Africa, millions more are persecuted by governments or terrorists. Religious persecution causes terrible human suffering, destroys economies, destabilizes societies, and abets the spread of jihadism.
Last September, candidate Trump invited religious-freedom advocates who had not endorsed him to meet at Trump Tower. At the time a Trump victory appeared unlikely, but it seemed a good opportunity to brief him anyway.
I’m glad I took that opportunity. Now I’d like to remind the president of what he said and suggest the steps he must take if his administration is to succeed where its predecessor failed.
I offered my view then that the Obama administration had not prioritized religious freedom in its foreign policy and had missed a golden opportunity to promote stability and human flourishing. A Trump administration should not make the same mistake.
On January 31, Tom Farr was the featured guest on the Faith & International Affairs Conference Call hosted by the Institute for Global Engagement.
In his prepared remarks, Dr. Farr laid out six prescriptions for the new administration as it concerns international religious freedom policy. The call then concluded with a series of audience questions and discussion.
Here are the six prescriptions:
The administration, and really the president, should state clearly not only that religious freedom is important to the United States, but that it is important to the world and as a consequence religious freedom for everyone will be consolidated and expanded under the Trump administration.
The president should nominate quickly an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom with the personal credentials for success and give that Ambassador the authority and resources necessary to succeed.
The administration should begin to connect international religious freedom with international stability and, therefore, with U.S. national security.
The administration should look at international religious freedom as an "all of government" human rights and national security strategy, not simply the State department.
The administration should, within the Department of State, train and incentivize Foreign Service Officers and diplomats to advance religious freedom in our foreign policy.
The administration should not contribute to the decline of religious freedom in the United States by excluding Muslims and other non-Christian minorities from the administrations approach to religious freedom.
RFI President Tom Farr will be the featured guest for the January Faith and International Affairs Conference Call, hosted by the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) on January 31, 2017.
Conference Call Title: "What President Trump Should—and Shouldn’t—Do About International Religious Freedom"
Dr. Farr will share insights and recommendations for the Trump administration, particularly in light of the recently-enacted Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act.
Details: Tuesday, January 31, 1:00pm EST
Visit IGE's website to RSVP and learn more about the Faith and International Affairs Conference Call series: https://globalengage.org/news-media/press-release/january-2017-faith-international-affairs-conference-call
RFI President Thomas Farr joined a diverse group of speakers at a panel event hosted by Mount Saint Mary University discussing the present and future challenges of religious liberty.
The evening was opened by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. Archbishop Lori, who cited not just the historical commitment to religious freedom of the institution, the country, but also the positive impact that the exercise of religious freedom has had and continues to have on the world. Yet he warned of the seeming "tightening of the noose" around the freedom for individuals to act on the basis of their convictions. While this has happened at the level of court decisions and government policies, these governmental decisions, in his view, follow on from changes in culture.
The panelists then looked to provide both insight into the future challenges and a call to action to strengthen and promote religious freedom, both domestically and internationally.
Archbishop William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore
Daniel Hartman, Associate, WilmerHale LLP
Cheryl Mitchell Gaines, Founder and Senior Pastor, ReGeneration House of Praise
Nathan Diament, Executive Director, Orthodox Union Advocacy Center
Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute, Director, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University
Read More about the Panel: "Faithful called to join intellectuals in religious freedom fight" by Erik Zygmont (Catholic Review)
Watch the event:
On October 19-20, 2016, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted an important conference in London looking at the crucial role that religious freedom plays in disarming the ideologies that produce extremism and religiously motivated terrorism. Religious freedom is an important tool in undercutting the narratives that extremists use to motivate their followers to violent actions against minorities, the government, those of another faith, or even their co-religionists.
RFI President Tom Farr was asked to address the conference as part of an opening panel to set the scene, illuminating: Why Freedom of Religion or Belief is Particularly Relevant.
The conference gathered a diverse group of academics, activists, faith leaders, and political figures to look not only at the problem but to understand the crucial role of religious freedom in countering religiously motivated violence.
Photo Credit: @FCOHuman Rights
As November 8 draws near, RFI leadership has made the case to both the Republican and Democratic Presidential Campaigns that religious freedom is a vital part of American foreign policy.
RFI President Tom Farr briefed Presidential candidate Donald Trump on the crisis of religious freedom here and abroad at a closed-door meeting in New York. Farr was part of an invitation-only meeting of Catholics and Evangelicals who have not endorsed Trump.
Farr's central point was that our government is not doing enough to address the international crisis, and is part of the problem here at home. Focusing on the global problem, he told Trump that the next President would have a moral and statutory obligation to advance religious freedom in US foreign policy. Farr said that succeeding in that task would not only help stabilize regions such as the Middle East, but would undermine violent religious extremism and increase the national security of the United States.
In a separate initiative, a group of experts on international religious freedom met with senior officials in both campaigns to deliver a series of recommendations for the next president on religious freedom and American foreign policy.
RFI President Tom Farr and Dennis Hoover, Editor-in-Chief, The Review of Faith & International Affairs, were primary authors of the recommendations delivered to the campaigns: U.S. Foreign Policy & International Religious Freedom: Recommendations for the Next President
The effort was led by Open Doors USA and the Institute for Global Engagement. See this to learn more about the initiative and see a full list of individuals who signed on: EXPERTS BRIEF BOTH CLINTON AND TRUMP CAMPAIGNS ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah delivered a paper entitled, “Engaging the ‘New Critics’ of Religious Freedom,” at the Fourth International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies Conference. Shah's paper was part of a discussion on Freedom of Religion and International Law.
Shah's paper addresses recent literature that brings charges that religious freedom is a Western cultural construct being imposed on foreign cultures.
The fourth ICLARS conference brought together more than 150 experts from 37 countries to discuss the topic of “Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing Dimensions of a Common Right?”, at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom, on Sept. 9, 2016.
The International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies is an international network of scholars and experts in law and religion begun in 2007 with Professor Silvio Ferrari of the University of Milan as President. The purpose of ICLARS is to provide a forum for exchange of information, data, and opinions among members — at present from more than 40 countries — which can be made available to the broader scientific community.
Learn more about ICLARS and the Conference: ICLARS IV: "Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing Dimensions of a Common Right?"
Read: Timothy Shah and Daniel Philpott (2016): Engaging the "New Critics" of Religious Freedom
Photo Credit: ICLRS
RFI Executive Director Kent Hill spoke alongside more than twenty members of Congress and other Middle East experts on the realities of the Middle East as part of the In Defense of Christians 2016 National Advocacy Convention.
The theme of the conference was "Beyond Genocide: Preserving Christianity in the Middle East"
In his address, Hill looked at the urgency not only of providing aid and assistance to those communities at risk of extinction in places like Iraq and Syria, but also of strengthening and supporting the communities in the region that are at risk, but not on life support.
Places like Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and even Turkey, present an opportunity to strengthen the presence of Christianity and demonstrate that diverse communities can live together again.
Photo Credit: In Defense of Christians